Plan of Agdal Garden. From Palazon, “Paisaje periurbano . . .” (2013)

Agdal Garden

 
Catalogue
North African Gardens
City
Marrakesh
Country
Morocco
Dates
1157
Author
Abbey Stockstill

Description

Key dates: 1157 (Almohad foundation), 1578–93 (Saadian renovation and pavilion), 1834–44 (Alaouite renovation)

 

The massive walled garden complex known as the Agdal Garden is located directly southeast of Marrakesh’s medieval medina. Founded in 1157 by the first Almohad caliph, ʿAbd al-Muʾmin, the garden was one of the largest gardens of its type, measuring roughly five hundred hectares, only slightly smaller than the medina itself (which measured about six hundred hectares). The name agdal, which would become synonymous with buhayra, referring to a large garden designed around a water reservoir and enclosed by fortified walls, was originally a Berber term that entered the Moroccan dialect around the time of the Almohad Empire. The rectangular enclosure is divided up into smaller rectangles, in which plants are organized by type; there is also an orange grove located near the two extant reservoirs to take advantage of the water, and as well as other enclosures for fig, palm, almond, and walnut trees, many of which were imported from as far as Egypt under the early Almohad caliphate. Most of the garden, however, is filled by groves of olive trees. The borders of the enclosures are defined by myrtles, black elderberries, and trellises of roses, sweetbriar, and jasmine.

The Agdal is most notable for its awareness and manipulation of the landscape around it, taking advantage of a slight incline toward the north as the plain surrounding Marrakesh rises into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The most significant features of this garden are the two large reservoirs located in the southern third of the enclosure (870 m from the southern border). The larger of the two, known as the ṣahrīj al-manzeh (lit. “the park basin”), measures 220 m2 and could hold 200,000 m3 of water. These were fed by a system of khettaras and irrigation channels that diverted snow and rain runoff from the nearby mountain wadis toward Marrakesh (see Hydraulics). The basin was positioned in front of a larger pavilion known as the Dār al-Hanāʾ (“The Pavilion of Well-Being”) built under ʿAbd al-Muʾmin’s successor, Abū Yaʿqūb Yūsuf, which served as the site of military parades, royal audiences, and tribal gatherings. The basin itself served a multifunctional purpose: it provided irrigation for the gardens as well as drinking water to the city, and was also used for swimming practice and tactical naval exercises.

The Agdal garden fell into disrepair after the fall of the Almohad dynasty, but was renovated in the sixteenth century, when the Saadian dynasty chose Marrakesh as the site for their new imperial palace. Under the Saadians, the gardens became known as the Rawd al-Masarra (“Park of Joy”), and historical accounts point to the construction of fountains as part of the project. The restoration was short-lived, however, and with the rise of the Alaouite dynasty in the early eighteenth century, the garden again fell into disrepair. The irrigation channels became blocked by silt, and as the basins dried up, displaced populations moved in, purportedly establishing an actual village within the basin complete with houses, lanes, and marketplaces. However, in his role as crown prince and viceroy of Marrakesh, Muhammad IV initiated a large restoration project between 1834 and 1844 that removed the basin’s inhabitants, cleared the irrigation channels, and replanted those groves that had died in neglect. It was in this period also that a large palace known as the Dār al-Bayḍāʾ (“The White Palace”) was built, which still serves as the Marrakesh residence of the Moroccan royal family.

 

Sources

  • Court Chronicle, 12th–13th c. (Ibn Ṣāḥib al-Ṣalāt’s “Tarīkh al-mann bi-l-imāma”; Ibn Sammāk’s “al-Ḥulal al-mawshiyya”)
  • Archaeological Analysis, 2012 archaeological excavation (CSIC and LAAC)
  • Travel Account, 17th c. (Thomas le Gendre, Adriaan Matham)
  • Historical, 17th c. (al-Fishtālī’s “Manāhil al-ṣafā fī akhbār al-mulūk al-shurfā”)